What’s Different This Time

The Pentagon is pursuing its “third offset” attempt to stay ahead of near-peers in technology in a security environment fundamentally different than what existed when the first two offsets were employed, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said Wednesday. Speaking at a Center for a New American Security seminar in Washington, D.C., Work said the first two offsets were aimed at blunting the capabilities of the then-Soviet Union specifically; first using nuclear weapons to offset Soviet conventional strength in the 1950s-60s, and then to offset Soviet numbers and improving quality in the 1970s-2000s with advanced capabilities like stealth, precision weapons, and networking. There are “three key differences” this time, Work said. First, “we are under a much more trying temporal component,” meaning opponents are matching US capabilities much more quickly. In response, “we are looking for promising technologies” that will be available for use within the Future Years Defense Plan, while pushing development for advances that will be available in the 2020s and R&D for those of the ‘30s. Second, there’s no “monolithic adversary” like the Soviet Union. Russia, ISIS, and Ebola represent three extremely different threats, each requiring different strategies, Work said. Third, Pentagon money and initiative isn’t going to drive the next wave of technology, Work said; it will be the commercial world, pursuing revolutionary efforts in autonomy, biotech, “big data,” and 3-D printing. The Pentagon is trying to adapt to that reality by building better links with industry, he said. “There’s no ‘silver bullet’ that will work … for all” threats and “no one strategy for all adversaries,” Work said. “We must be much more innovative and agile.”